China has reacted warily towards a joint defence pact between Japan and Australia, saying that their military cooperation should not threaten third-party interests.
The defence pact, the Reciprocal Access Agreement, was agreed to “in principle” but not formally signed during Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent visit to Japan.
The pact would provide a legal and administrative framework for the Japanese and Australian armed forces to have access to each others’ bases and cooperate more closely.
On Wednesday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian indicated Beijing’s unease about the agreement.
“The Chinese side has repeatedly pointed out that cooperation between related countries should be conducive to peace and stability and enhance mutual trust in the region … and should not target any third party or threaten the third party’s interest,” said Zhao during a regular press conference on Wednesday.
The agreement, which has taken six years of negotiation, was concluded at a time of uncertainty over future US commitments towards the region following the change in leadership, and growing unease from other countries over China’s increasing assertiveness.
The deal also marks a significant shift for Japan’s Self Defence Force, which has taken on a more active role in regional security.
The pact will be Japan’s first agreement on a foreign military presence since the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement that provides a legal framework for the US military presence there.
Tokyo and Canberra have deepened their defence cooperation in recent years and both are currently taking part in the Malabar naval exercises with the United States and India.
The nationalist tabloid Global Times said Japan and Australia “have been used as US tools” to gang up on China and warned of countermeasures.
Zhao also expressed Beijing’s “strong dissatisfaction” about a joint statement signed by Morrison and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga following their meeting on Tuesday.
Without naming China, the two leaders expressed “serious concerns” about militarisation in the South and East China Seas, as well as “grave concerns” over the situation in Hong Kong. They also reaffirmed that they “welcomed the continued commitment of the United States to this region”.
Zhao said: “The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and strongly opposes the unreasonable accusations and gross interference in China’s internal affairs expressed in the Australia-Japan leaders’ meeting joint statement.
“Related countries should have a clear understanding on the situation, stop harming China’s sovereign interest and stop their erroneous acts of interfering in China’s domestic affairs.”